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Access to EU documents in need of revamp, officials say

Access to EU documents in need of revamp, officials say

by Heledd PRITCHARD 2 min. 15.11.2021 From our online archive
20-year-old law needs to be more aligned with how people now communicate, EU Ombudsman says
European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly
European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly
Photo credit: European Ombudsman/LW archives

The law on how citizens can access EU documents should be updated and people across the bloc should be included in the discussions, EU officials said during a panel discussion on Monday.

The regulation defining access to documents within EU institutions such as the Commission, Council and Parliament was created in 2001. Several attempts to revamp it fell through over the years, but the 20-year-old document now needs updates connected to how people communicate today, speakers said during the panel organised by the EU office that investigates citizen complaints and initiates inquiries relating to maladministration within the EU.

“There’s a slew of difficulties,” EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said. “There’s a view that the regulation needs to be updated, it’s no longer fit for purpose.”

Transparency issues account for around one quarter of inquiries to O'Reilly's office each year. In a poll ahead of the panel discussion, 77% of respondents said access to documents needs to be changed.

The regulation aims to “ensure the widest possible access to documents” on the grounds of public interest, and that “any citizen of the union” has the right of access to documents from the institutions unless there are strong reasons not to disclose them, such as public security.

But some important documents have not been released in the past, such as advice the Commission gave the Council in 2013 over pesticides, O’Reilly said.  The regulation gives EU institutions 15 working days to respond to a document-access request.

Věra Jourová, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, said she is in favour of updating the rules as soon as possible. “We aim at a revision of the existing rules to fully bring them in line with reality,” she later wrote on Twitter.

A major public consultation about updating the access rules should be launched before the Commission comes up with proposed changes, European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala said.

The discussion comes three days after German newspaper Spiegel International reported that the European Commission deleted thousands or emails and documents that are older than six months. It came after a Dutch assistant professor requested access to documents on tax rulings. The European Commission claimed it had no emails on the matter, according to the Spiegel. The Commission could not give an estimate of how many documents have disappeared for good, the article stated.

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